Carolyn Arends: Love Was Here First Review 10/18/09
(Release: 10/20/09)Interesting story, the title on the CD cover is not Photo-shopped onto the background building. Rather, she had her artists roller paint it direct on the wall, even as they checked to make sure there really was nothing crass in the existing graffiti.
As is, I own four of Carolyn’s nine, now ten music offerings. As an old Fuddy Duddy, who still buys CDs (and refuses to let people copy them) I had started to lose ground with some of my favorite music people over the last years; Given the shift to a download product, not everybody shows up in the record store they way they once did. But now… Presto, I find I am reuniting with my faves through Facebook.
So what is Love Was Here First?
It’s an album full of fledged quality, from the vocals to the instrumentation and production to the cover and inside graphics to the heart behind it all. Carolyn has worked hard to honor both God and her neighbor by giving us a product that is inventive, artistically challenging, and deeply encouraging.
For the uninitiated, Carolyn has what might be called a pretty voice, leaning cute. Or like a happy mom. But don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean saccharine, but rather kind of wholesome and funny and loaded with character. (Carolyn, I hope this doesn’t sound wrong, but I have always thought that you have the voice that should belong to a third-grade teacher; a little tough, a little sweet, with lots of play.) But teacher aside, Carolyn uses her voice in this album in some ways that are new to me. Think “lovely” as opposed to cute. Or bold as opposed to careful -- with moments of rhapsody. I’d almost bet she has been listening to indie pop singer Regina Spektor. (but that’s just a guess.)
Beyond that, the sonic textures and variety on LWHF push farther than anything I have heard in an Arend’s release. One or two tracks were a little over produced for my ear, but by-and-large, the production flat sizzles. The opening track begins with a gut-pleasing staccato “train track” guitar, followed later by a brass quartet and fiddle. The second track quiets down with Carolyn singing a pensive and soulful rendition of “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” She even gets to sing it with the Sojourners, an old- school black gospel quartet. Wow! Over the course of the next nine songs, Arends romps through multiple styles and moods, from gypsy to swing and Dixiegrass. Trumpets, fiddles, mandolins, yukes, and uilleann pipes fan an insturmental parade. (I think that was a uilleann pipe?) And did I hear a song fit for a Broadway musical? YES! I wouldn’t be surprised if producer Ray Salmond listens to Bruce Cockburn, Tracy Chapman, or Sufjan Stevens.
New sounds and vocal treatments aside, the thing Carolyn does best is quietly minister to her audience. She appears to have a gift for encouragement, and writes songs that should stick in your head. We might know that nothing can separate from the love of Christ, but having that dance in your head through song brings double joy. In the end, Carolyn has succeeded at giving us a record that really does feed our mind and spirit, even as it reaches for high standards of expression. And this is odd…